Guest column // By Dennis PorterWhy law enforcement officers should earn a degree in homeland security

Published 8 December 2011

In a guest column, Dennis Porter, a former law enforcement officer with more than thirty years of experience, argues that it is critical for U.S. national security that members of the law enforcement community return to school to obtain degrees in homeland security; with counterterrorism becoming an increasingly more crucial duty for law enforcement officers, it is imperative that they have the skills and knowledge to effectively combat extremism

A number of you reading this have already experienced what I did on 9/11, ten years ago. An infamous event that took me over six years to come to grips with emotionally after having helped out at ground zero the day we were attacked.  I could not watch any of the early documentaries on 9/11, nor could I watch the movie “Flight 93.”  Watching the movie made me feel a strong sense of sadness for the families as well as betrayal for their unnecessary deaths.  It would make me angry thinking about the inept shoddy airport security we had at the time, and even angrier that the National law enforcement agencies who we counted on to protect us let us down.    

I have thirty years of experience of law enforcement in Los Angeles County and those of you who have had similar street experience know what a box cutter can do to someone.  It comes as no surprise untrained airport security who have not had our experience would allow box cutters through.

An example of the security training and attitudes prior to 9/11 is typified in a flight I took out of San Antonio.  I saw a young man go through security with a folding knife that had a blade of about three inches, and amazingly, security let him take him board the plane with it. I asked the security officer if he was going to let him on board with the knife. The response was, “the blade is less than three and half inches, it’s okay.”  Apparently he had never dealt with a victim of a knife attack.

A second incident took place at Sacramento airport.  Security was going to let another young man through with a throwing star until I badged the security screener and told him it was a felony to have a throwing star. The young man eventually was allowed through security, but without his throwing star.     

There was no “depth of knowledge” in street weapons or in airport security training that should have covered illegal weapons and what they could do to a person.  How does this equate as to why Homeland Security should be a necessary degree for those “cops” involved in dealing with counter terrorism issues? A quote from Sun Tzu describes why, “If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.”

Those of you who are interested in doing more in the field of counter terrorism should ask yourselves some of the following questions: Why are we being targeted by Muslim radicals? What is their motivation and why we should be concerned?    

Whether you are directly involved in a Joint Terrorism Task Force or  a street cop that would like to become more knowledgeable about counter terrorism on your beat, enrolling in a Homeland Security degree program is a good way to push your mind  to develop a depth of knowledge in Homeland Security; learn what to look for if you suspect a terrorist cell is surveiling a piece of critical infrastructure on your beat; and learn how to identify a possible lone wolf terrorist. 

My interest in Homeland Security and counter terrorism started with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and culminated in 2011 by earning a Master’s in Homeland Security from American Military University (AMU).  AMU is a member university of the Homeland Security Defense Education Consortium Association (HSDECA).

One of the courses in AMU’s curriculum is a class on Airport Security Design, I can no longer go through an airport without doing a mental threat assessment of what I see and experience.  My degree in Homeland Security has made me more sensitive and knowledgeable in my observations when it comes to counter terrorism. 

Terrorism is now one more thing cops need to be aware of.  The probability of a line patrol officer being a first responder to a terrorist attack has increased and the patrol officer should prepare for that eventuallity.  One way to prepare yourself and join the fight to defend our nation is through education.   I encourage all law enforcement officers to consider a Homeland Security degree from a school of your choice, and I would suggest staying with an HSDECA member school in looking for a school to attend.

Dennis Porter is a senior law enforcement education coordinator with more than thirty years of experience working in law enforcement. He currently works with American Military University (AMU), encouraging members of the law enforcement community to earn college degrees. For his efforts, Porter was awarded the California Golden Badge. Prior to his work with AMU, Porter was the lead faculty for the National University’s Domestic Security Management Bachelor’s degree program. He has a Master’s in Homeland Security as well as a Master’s in Human Resources management.